Anyone who gathers multiple examples of the same basic object – be it Jeeps, skateboards, Fender guitars, etc – eventually seeks the differentiation that comes through customization. This is especially the case with firearms, the best example (or worst example, depending upon the taste of the customizer) being AR platform rifles which, like Jeeps, have multiple choices for literally every component that make up the whole.
Pistols are nowhere as bad, although even there options present themselves in sights, safety levers, finishes and, in the case of the older non-plastic designs, grip panels. While nowhere near as popular as either the M1911 or CZ family, the Browning High Power has been around long enough to attract its own aftermarket options, so today let us delve further into perhaps the most common custom modification done on a handgun: the simple yet critical grip panels.
In the course of owning three High Powers over roughly 25 years, I have had occasion to use seven different configuration of grips, grip swaps being the simplest way to change the appearance and improve the ergonomics of a handgun. Since much of what follows will be ergonomic in nature, a personal note; my hands are probably completely average in size, to the point where the Medium in most gloves are just slightly too small while most the Large in most gloves are just loose enough to leave space for a polypro glove liner, so consider all ergo related comments in that light.
First gun up will be one of my 9mms, the one I’ve already posted on at length here. These came to me with a set of Pachmayr wrap around rubber grips, a two piece design where the backstrap is covered with a separate rubber piece which fits under the grip panels and in held in place by the grip screw. This was actually the second set of these grips I came across, buying another pair to put on my first High Power when I shot it in USPSA.
Ergonomically they’re good, filling the hand well (although the thumb swells add a bit too much width, in my opinion). The appearance isn’t the best; the rubber tends to gather dirt and oxidize, making it turn more dark grey than black over time, while cleaning them is problematic since the kind of products that keep rubber black also make it slippery (something to be avoided for obvious reasons). There’s also the issue with the Pachmayr medallions; on the two sets I own, three of the four medallions have fallen off, making the appearance even more slipshod (although, in their defense, the missing medallions don’t affect the functionality in the least).
These were ~$25.00 grips when I bought mine 20 years ago; recent internet searches show them to be about $10.00 more expensive now (with the addition of a variant with finger grooves on the front strap, if anyone should see the need for that questionable affectation).
After the pistol was refinished I decided to upgrade, the oxidized rubber looking a bit grubby and covering too much of the new finish. I found a set of black Micarta checkered grips on Brownell’s (Author’s note: Links where available are included in the summary at the end), priced right about $40.00 if memory serves me. These slimmed down the butt quite a bit while still affording a secure grip; the rubber on the front and back straps is hardly missed while – to my eyes anyway – the appearance could hardly be better: the color roughly matches the other matte black components while the shape and checkering compliment the lines perfectly.
The second example is my 40 S&W, described in detail here. I bought this pistol in the mid-90s when they were first introduced, mine came with the black plastic grip panels seen on many commercial High Powers of that era. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the gun as it originally came; the only photos I have are from when I put them on my electroless nickel High Power
These are bad in just about every respect; the thumb ridges are too extreme and probably poorly located for many hands: the checkering is too shallow to be of much use: the plastic isn’t especially stiff, leading to a poor fit: and. last but not least, they are of a glaringly cheap appearance, hardly appropriate to the elegance of the High Power’s classic lines.
I ran them for a short while with the rubber Pachmayrs (again, no photo available) until, sometime in the late-90s, swapping them out for a set of Cocobola wood purchased through CDNN. These are very, very nice, the checkering sharply cut into an exceptionally hard piece of wood. They aren’t entirely flat with a subtle bulge on both panels just beneath the web of the hand. As comfortable as they feel in the hand, they look just as good, complimenting the matte black paint quite well.
As nice as they are these grips no longer seem to be available, at least as far as the Amazon/Midway/Brownell’s axis of internet firearms retailing goes, which isn’t surprising since CDNN is a retailer that specializes in closeouts.
Third High Power is my first, a Mk III that I bought NIB in the early-90s. It came with the factory wood grips of the same type prominently displayed on the owner’s manual.
I never cared for these, mainly for the fit; they’re quite thick and detract from the thinness that the High Power is justifiably renowned for. The wood is also fairly soft and the checkering pressed and not at all well defined. I eventually replaced them with a set of Pachmayr rubber grips and shot it like that for years (although I swapped the factory wood grips back on when I bought my 40 S&W).
Recently though I got the urge to change, looking to get something with better ergonomics and well as dress it up a bit. Surfing about a bit, the VZ Pro Slims struck my eye, being made from some plastic laminate – seems like a nylon-type material – the process of cutting the shape and texture giving a two-tone appearance. I selected the Tiger Stripe and, after an admirably short time, had the grips and fitted them to the pistol.
Unfortunately the orange and black combo was something that sounded better as an idea than it looked in person. On top of that the checkering (actually striping cut into the surface) didn’t offer much grip, the grooves being rather shallow.
Still the VZ Grips were of excellent craftsmanship and fit well. I turned to one of their other offerings on Amazon, the Simonich Gunner Grips which were specifically noted as having a ‘ very aggressive’ texture, selecting the more sedate Hyena Brown made of a two-tone of black and tan laminate. While I was at it I also ordered a set of Hogue hex head grip screws, because – well, just because.
These grips are excellent, cutting the overall width of the butt by close to a quarter inch and fitting my hand exceptionally well, with the rough drilled texture offering a nice bite (the Simonich texture was originally devised for custom knives then adapted to firearms). They look great as well, giving the appearance of wood only with the durability of a nylon-type thermoplastic.
Factory Plastic – These are simply nasty. The odd thumb swells make them wider than they look, they won’t fit most hands well, don’t offer much in the way of grip and look awful. The only reason I can come up with for Browning/FN using these is that they figured most people would replace them anyway and went with the cheapest option available.
Factory Wood – These don’t look so bad but are love/hate for how wide they are and how they fit the hand. I found that they made the grip too square, but if you’re someone who wants a High Power that fits their hand like a SIG – as strange as that may sound – these may be up your alley. Another negative is that the shallow checkering in the soft wood doesn’t offer much purchase to the hand or wear particularly well.
Pachmayr Rubber – Ergonomically, these are very good, fit most hands well and the rubber offers a very secure grip. They’re also widely available and affordable (You can usually find them for less than $40.00). The downsides are mainly aesthetic, especially once the medallions fall off and the rubber gets greyer and dirtier with age, while it also makes the grip a bit wider. To the more utilitarian shooter who doesn’t care much for the appearance of their weapon they’re a good budget choice.
Brownell’s Navidrex Black Micarta – Very, very slim. Checkering well defined and offers better purchase than either of the factory offerings (but not the Pachmayrs). Reasonably priced at ~$50.00. Matte black color will look attractive on most weapons.
Target Sports Cocobola Wood – Very slim with the modest swelling well placed to fill most hands. Checkering well cut and the wood hard enough that they offer very good purchase. Very attractive wood colors. Apparently discontinued.
VZ Pro Slims – Very slim and should fill most hands well. Smoothest surface of all the grips here, which may not bother some like it bothered me. Tons of colors available with something to suit most preferences, from basic black to some fairly garish combos. Not cheap (+$75.00), but excellent quality.
VZ Gunner – Very slim and should fit most hands well. Rough surface offers great grip and the material is hard enough that it should last a long, long time. Plenty of colors available. Not cheap (+$75.00) but excellent in both ergos and quality.